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Responsibility of Sports Stars

Interview With Father K. Lixey of Pontifical Council for the Laity

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 21, 2006 (Zenit) - Soccer stars have a lot more to show their fans than just their athletic prowess, says a Vatican aide.

For a perspective on the educational, social and religious factors of the soccer world, we interviewed Legionary Father Kevin Lixey, who oversees the "Church and Sports" section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Pope John Paul II instituted the section shortly before the 2004 Athens Olympics, to intensify the presence of the Church in the sports world.

Q: The World Cup attracts global attention. It seems that during this period the earth revolves around a ball. There are more nations in FIFA than in the U.N. What does the Church say?

Father Lixey: Indeed, soccer is one of the phenomena that awakens the most passions in the world, but at the same time it helps "to establish fraternal relations among men of all classes, nations and races," as Number 61 of "Gaudium et Spes" states.

Entertainment is something proper to the human condition and soccer entertains. In this connection, it can be said that soccer is at the service of man.

But one must take care that it is not the other way around, so that man is not subjected to soccer to the point of harming his dignity, because the football player, the fan, can become a slave to this entertainment.

The World Cup is a school of humanity, given that many countries agree to engage in an activity that respects precise norms and seeks constant improvement in an atmosphere of healthy competitiveness.

These characteristics make soccer, and more specifically the World Cup, a pedagogical tool of coexistence.

Q: What activities is the Catholic Church carrying out in Germany on the occasion of the World Cup?

Father Lixey: Among others, the Church in Germany celebrated an opening Mass in Munich on June 9, and offers Masses and pastoral care in the cities and, on the days that matches are held, in German and also in the languages corresponding to the countries playing.

Moreover, the DJK, Catholic sports association, published a book of prayers and meditations for the World Cup, which includes a selection of texts of the Popes' teachings to sportsmen.

There is also a site of the German episcopal conference on the Internet, which includes a reflection given by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the occasion of the 1978 World Cup.

Q: The World Cup shows the enormous importance that sport has in present-day society and, in particular, its influence on young people. What would you say to one of the players taking part in this World Cup?

Father Lixey: That the eyes of the world are on him, something he surely already knows, and that for many young people what he does is taken as a model.

Therefore, though it is true they have the responsibility to win, they also have the responsibility to become a testimony for young people and children, who consider them their models of inspiration and aspiration, who comb their hair like them, who imitate their way of playing, but also their attitudes and reactions.

On the occasion of the blessing of the Olympic Stadium of Rome, before the 1990 World Cup, Pope John Paul II said to football players: "Sportsmen all over the world are looking at you. Be conscious of your responsibility, not only to be the champion in the stadium, but also the man who with his whole person must become a model for millions of young people who have need of leaders, not of idols. They have need of men who are able to communicate to them a taste for the arduous, a sense of discipline, the value of honesty and the joy of altruism. Your testimony, coherent and generous, can stimulate them to face the problems of life with the same commitment and enthusiasm."

These phrases of the Pope enclose a program of life for the football player and surely respond to one of the great values that sports represent in the world: to be a point of reference for the education of future generations.

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